“It’s the economy, stupid”. But not this year.
The economy is doing so well that even Forbes magazine, hardly a friend to the Democrats, declared, “Obama Outperforms Reagan On Jobs, Growth and Investing”. Nevertheless, Republicans all over the country, ably assisted by Fox News, were able to mount successful campaigns founded simply on “Obama, Bad”. Bizarrely, many Democrats apparently agreed. Instead of countering the Republican disinformation with the very real achievements of the last few years, many Democrats ran away from the president, treating him like a pariah.
For example, in south western Ohio, we were subjected to the dueling ads of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell and challenger Allison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell’s job approval rating was even worse than Obama’s, so there was a reason for the Democrats to get excited about her prospects. But the campaign was ridiculous. McConnell spent his time chaining Grimes to Obama and bashing the president. Grimes countered McConnell’s “Obama, Bad” with “McConnell, Worse”, though she seemed to agree with McConnell on the things that mattered, such as guns and coal, and even on how bad Obama was. Grimes put as much distance between herself and Obama as she could, to the point of refusing to say whether or not she voted for Obama in the last election. The whole strategy was based on the voters ignoring her party affiliation: it was doomed to failure.
The Republicans and their allies at Fox News are very skillful. After six years of constantly undermining Obama, occasionally pointing out real missteps, but more often resorting to half truths and outright fabrications, they have succeeded in convincing many Americans that Obama is a disaster.
However, the Republicans are not just character assassins: they have an agenda. Concerning the changing climate, they advocate a head in the sand approach, ignoring or denying the evidence that human activity is having any effect. In economics, the Republicans subscribe to a “trickle down” policy that first protects the “job creators”, anticipating that the bounty will eventually reach the rest of the economy. We have had over 30 years of experience since this approach was introduced, the evidence is that it benefits only the wealthy. I could go on, but that is not the point. The Republicans have candidates who stand for something, and even when these candidates loose, they affect the debate and the direction of the country.
What is most galling about the Grimes campaign and others like it is that it does not really stand for anything. It wastes an opportunity to present a clear alternative to the bone headed policies advocated by the Republicans. As a result, the voters drift a little further off course.
The Bush administration, starting from a booming economy and a budget surplus, drove the economy into near collapse. The Obama administration, despite Republican attempts to sabotage everything he did, succeeded in rebuilding the economy. Employment is up, and the stock market is at record highs. This is the kind of success the party should be embracing, not running away from. The Democrats should be running on their vision for the future, like they did so successfully in 2008. Then, even if they had lost a midterm election where the prospects were rather dim, they would have had an impact on the long term. Instead, they ran away from their strength and offered nothing but bluster. It is no wonder the well oiled, well financed, Republican machine rolled them over.
This year, the Democrats lost more than an election, they lost an opportunity to shape the debate among the American people. In this election, the Democrats deserved defeat.